Sunday, January 30, 2022

Paul Vidich

Paul Vidich is the acclaimed author of The Mercenary, The Coldest Warrior, An Honorable Man, and The Good Assassin, and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, LitHub, CrimeReads, Fugue, The Nation, Narrative Magazine, Wordriot, and others.

Vidich's new novel is The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Vidich's reply:
On the evening of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, an enduring symbol of the Cold War, came down. It was a momentous night. No shots were fired and no lives were lost, but it was the beginning of the end of the forty-year long Cold War. The repressive East German government fell and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is central to my new historical novel. Berlin happens to be a city that has been a deep well for well for espionage fiction. Nikita Khrushchev called Berlin “a swampland of spies.” Berlin was the friction point between the Communist Block and the NATO Alliance, and you had all these spies running around. Both sides recruited sources, placed penetration agents, and when necessary, undertook legally sanctioned criminal activity against each other.

Five books were important resources for the six months of research that I did. The books capture the drama of the Wall’s collapse and provide insight into East German’s pain of displacement in the weeks and months afterward.

The Berlin Wall’s opening was not planned by the East German ruling regime—nor was it the result of a bargain between either President Ronald Reagan or President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The accidental opening is superbly told in The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, in which prize-winning historian Mary Elise Sarotte reveals how a perfect storm of decisions made by daring underground revolutionaries, disgruntled Stasi officers, and dictatorial party bosses sparked an unexpected series of events culminating in the chaotic fall of the Wall. Sarotte brings to life a story that sweeps across Budapest, Prague, and Leipzig and on to the armed checkpoints in Berlin. The Collapse offers the definitive account of the night that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Markus Wolf, the legendary head of the Stasi’s foreign intelligence branch, was little known to Western intelligence officers. In his memoir, Man Without a Face, he emerges from the shadows to reveal his remarkable life of secrets, lies, and betrayals. The memoir illuminates the reality of espionage operations as few non-fiction works before it have. Wolf reveals the truth behind East Germany’s involvement with terrorism, and he describes how the Stasi used so-called Romeos, East German spies married to West German women, to collect intelligence. With its high-speed chases, hidden cameras, phony brothels, secret codes, false identities, and triple agents, Man Without a Face reads like a spy thriller—except this time the action is real.

Australian writer Anna Funder uses a series of East German character sketches to reveal life under former Communist rule in Stasiland: True Stories Behind the Berlin Wall. The German Democratic Republic’s surveillance apparatus, run by the Stasi (secret police), was more pervasive than elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc; many people became informers, while others had their lives ruined for minor infractions. Funder interviewed ex-Stasi employees and she befriended several survivors, recording their life of persecution. Funder shrewdly blends memoir elements with these personal histories and casts a keen eye on the remaining traces of the old regime.

Hester Vaizey, Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, details the dramatic changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 through the lives of eight citizens of the former East Germany in her book, Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall. What was it really like to go from living under communism one minute, to capitalism the next? All of the people in the book were born in East Germany after the Berlin Wall was put up in August 1961, so they knew nothing other than living in a socialist system when the GDR fell apart. Their stories provide a fascinating insight into everyday life in the now vanished East Germany—with a measure of loathing for the Stasi and some fondness and regret for a lost world of guaranteed employment.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

Q&A with Paul Vidich.

My Book, The Movie: The Mercenary.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercenary.

--Marshal Zeringue